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Eddie Woo is an award-winning maths teacher in Australia who has become famous for his YouTube videos on mathematics.
1. What’s your earliest memory of doing mathematics?
I remember in primary school being bored and trying to calculate the successive powers of 2 to see how far I could get. After several weeks chipping away at this, I think I reached 2 to the power of 40 or so!
2. How has mathematics education changed in the time you have been involved in it?
I love that there has been an increasing focus on creativity and openness within mathematical problem solving, as well as on the importance of mindset and the development of mathematical resilience.
3. Tell me about a time in your career when something totally flabbergasted you.
I remember feeling completely at my wits’ end when, early in my career, I was teaching the first principles of differentiation to a class of 16-year-olds. I had felt so confident going into that lesson, and thought I knew exactly how to teach the concept because I could easily complete the problems in the exercise I was about to set. I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I mark that as the day I learned that being able to solve problems through an algorithm is not the goal of mathematical understanding but just the beginning.
4. Do you practise mathematics differently in company?
I think I practise it better! Every time I’m with others, I feel it forces me to articulate my thoughts in a much clearer way and see things in ways beyond my initial instincts. As the physicist Richard Feynman put it, “You don’t understand something truly until you can explain it simply” – and I rely on others to give me that opportunity for explanation!
5. Do you think a brilliant maths teacher is born or made?
Yes, I do! By which I mean, I think some aspects of brilliant maths teaching are innate, while others are cultivated through time and experience. It has taken me years (and many mistakes!) to develop the craft of asking good questions, of being able to discern student misconceptions, and of having a broad understanding of the interconnected areas of mathematics to connect concepts together in coherent ways. But I think the best teachers are born with a love for students and a curiosity for learning, which are the real motivating factors for all the ways in which a teacher must grow.
6. What’s the most fun a mathematician can have?
Very simply: seeing an old thing in a new way that yields fresh insight. Few things are more exhilarating than the joy of discovering why something you always knew finally makes sense.
7. Do you have a favourite maths joke?
Why was Ten afraid of Seven? Because Seven ate Nine, and Ten was next!
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